Life with a pre-teen
I’ve been struggling recently, feeling completely out of my depth, and I feel the need to write about some of the not-so-pleasant daily realities of being a parent to an almost-teenager. What I want to talk about is not to shame her, or any other teen/pre-teen. It’s to touch on the realities of everyday life with a 12 year old. When I started writing this it was 10:30pm and I’d had 2 rather intense, in-depth conversations with her since she came home around 9pm. I’ve been reflecting on the evening and reminding myself that although those were some of the most challenging conversations I’ve had with her so far (oh so many yet to come), it’s helped me to communicate with her better and this is all part of my journey towards better patience.
The other weekend, I facilitated one of my regular Born to Carry Peer Supporter courses here in Ipswich. One of the women who joined us is a mother of 9, who had 5 teenage daughters at home at one point. She was talking about the hormones that take the person hostage, about how it’s not their true self, it’s a mask, and that we just have to keep showing them that we still love them, even if they need to change their current behaviour to respect the boundaries within our families. This really resonated with me, as some people view my parenting approach as permissive, yet it’s far from it! Boundaries are a cornerstone of my parenting. Just because I’m not looking for excuses to say “no”, and want to hear what’s going on inside their head, doesn’t mean they have free reign to do whatever they feel with no consequence or thought to who is affected by their actions etc.
I vividly remember when I was a teenager, vowing that I would never be like my parents. I could feel everything, every injustice, every desperate attempt for control, so vividly. I promised myself I would never forget how it felt, even as my father would say to me “one day, when you have children of your own, you will understand”. I couldn’t imagine ever being so unkind to my children and thought he was crazy. Well, I grew up and had children and ended up with an almost-teen in the process. While I can categorically say that there is a lot I don’t agree with about my parents methods, I don’t want to shame my parents. As an adult, I can see that they were doing what they thought was best with the information they had at the time. As a parent, I hoped to gain better information and act accordingly, and for the most part I think I do. So, my children’s childhood is in stark contrast to my own
, and when you think about it, surely that should equal happy, cooperative children who co-exist in harmony? Wrong.
One thing I struggle with, having an older child, is that even though their happiness is put above all else, that I bend over backwards to make their lives a good one, nothing ever seems to be enough. It seems that boundaries always need to be tested, to check that even though you tell them your love is unconditional, it really is. That they can let out that cocktail of hormones in a safe space and be heard, held and respected. I cannot live up to my teen-self’s promises of how I would treat my children because I am a parent now. There are some things you cannot understand unless you have lived through the experience. Being a parent is very high up that list!
I swear this is why there is no “manual” that works for raising children. The reason why after all these years, there is no magic formula. Sure, there are some children who seem immune to or fare easily with the hormonal upheavals of the transition from child to adult, but they are the minority. Those wonderful traits in adults that are challenging in toddlers and small children become battle-inducing in older children. Walking the line between honouring their feelings and thoughts, and reminding them of the boundaries we all adhere to with respect to one another is exhausting on a good day, and hibernation-inducing on a bad day. Every child is different. As they get older, those nuances of personality get more and more subtle and before you know it you are faced with an infinite number of possible outcomes to each (seemingly) simple everyday task. The only thing my head can come up with in comparison is what a toddler on drugs may look like. An awful analogy, I know, but fitting in terms of the unpredictable behaviour in addition to the constant emotional upheaval.
When it comes to attempting to impart nuggets of practical information or – dare I say – wisdom, it’s much the same as learning other life lessons as an adult. Unless you are at the right point in time to receive and understand a lesson, it doesn’t matter how much it’s shared with you. You will not hear it or learn from it unless you are in the right space to receive it.
I think that the constant dance with the child is why “attachment parenting” is less popular with over-5’s. As children get older, things aren’t as simple as they once were, and it seems harder to carry on that path. The stress that can be induced by the character and voice of a child allowed to express their true feelings and thoughts becomes harder as their vocabulary grows and they feel safer knowing they can express themselves without judgement. You know that deep down you should be thankful that they know themselves, and that you are able to provide them with the safe environment to hold onto their identity, but at the same time you are only human. It can be scary as a parent, and more so if you were confined as a child
. Even more so if you have multiple children who are allowed and encouraged to be their true selves.
As my daughter edges closer to puberty, hormones almost seem to possess her. When I’m caught up in the every day stresses of a home-educating/work-at-home-mum way of life, I admit it’s often very difficult to take a step back and remember how I used to feel, how it’s a fluctuation in the chemical balance, that it’s not a calculated, intentional response (most of the time anyway). I strive to be more understanding, more patient and more loving. I also have the benefit of seeing where my parents came from in their frustrations. I still vow to do things differently, and I hope that however my “methods” turn out, the fact that I will not stop trying to express how much I love my children will win out and pave the way forwards for them to do better than me with their own.
It doesn’t stop it from being incredibly hard, from me failing every single day. All I can do is keep that intention, put it into action, and hope that I’m doing it as close to “right” as possible, and that my children will look back and think that too. Love-bombing is one thing that seems to work for my family to diffuse situations the majority of the time, if verbal communication is failing. What works for you and yours?